Arquivo da categoria ‘Ukelele Songs’

EDDIE VEDDER’S ANGELS AND DEMONS

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EDDIE VEDDER – A BETTER MAN

By Priscila Roque – Born in 1982, she’s a Portuguese-descendent Brazilian post graduate in Cultural Journalism who discovered Pearl Jam at 13. Since then, 14 shows were attended in several cities around the world such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Berlin, Lisbon and London.

English version by Fernando Bartelle – @fbartelle – https://reflexodaletra.wordpress.com/

He’s lost his father, who he barely knew, during his teens and directed his displeasure towards the leadership of one of the most loved bands on the rock scene from the last twenty years. PRISCILA ROQUE explains how paternity issues echoed on the professional trajectory of a musician famous for his political approach with Pearl Jam, but who also claims for a pure love while composing soundtracks. Who is the real Eddie Vedder after all?

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Lessons of life and family issues, two of the most cliché movie themes may also be unusual subjects when connected to this rock star who surfaced in the beginning of the 90s. Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam’s frontman, created hits that concerned, mostly, political issues or depressive, rebellious feelings, exactly the same themes that molded the grunge movement on that decade. However, besides the group, still in action, Vedder – as opposed to fellow Americans Kurt Cobain (Nirvana lead singer, passed in 1994), Layne Staley (Alice in Chains frontman, who died in 2002), or Chris Cornell (Soungarden) – drafted a side career as a lyricist and soundtrack performer. The highlight of this tendency is that most songs are dedicated to movies which try to show human values.

BROKEN HEART

Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam’s voice since 1991, had a complicated childhood and carries a tough family background. Registered by his step father as a baby, he didn’t know his biological father. In fact he had already seen him once, despite not knowing about it. And, like in the movies, he only found out the guy was his father when he passed away due to multiple sclerosis. Eddie was then a teenager. The man was Edward Louis Severson, Jr., a musician from San Diego. A little before his father’s death, Eddie – who adopted his mother’s last name Vedder – got his first guitar. Influenced by The Who’s songs, he started dedicating himself to the instrument, which he referred to as his only company at the time.

By the end of the 80s he joined the band Bad Radio, with whom he recorded Better Man – song to be a hit with Pearl Jam as a single of the album Vitalogy in 1995. During the shooting of VH1’s show Storytellers, the musician revealed he composed the song while still on school. On several Pearl Jam shows he also stated it was about the man his mother had married. “Memories back when she was bold and strong / And waiting for the world to come along / Swears she knew it, now she swears he’s gone / She lies and says she’s in love with him / Can’t find a better man” he tells us in one of the passages.

In 1983 Vedder got involved with Beth Liebling, whom he would marry eleven years later. Some people say this relationship also rendered strong inspiration to his work with Pearl Jam. However, love lyrics weren’t a highlight in the group’s career back then. In 2000 the couple broke up and, from then on, an intense change was perceptible on his lyrics and musical style. Among political compositions, that Pearl Jam never let aside, Eddie, by the time of the divorce, started playing the Hawaiian instrument ukelele (originated from the ‘cavaquinho’ took by Portuguese people to Hawaii) and thus composing some songs that would mark a new moment for himself and the band. Can’t Keep, that would make Pearl Jam’s Riot Act record in 2002, and Broken Hearted, part of his second solo album Ukelele Songs in 2011, came. The feeling of rupture is clear on the latter: “I’m alright, it’s just tonight / I can’t play the part / I’m alright, it’s alright / It’s just one broken heart”.

Now, being 47 years old, he’s a father of two girls, Olivia (born in 2004, she can be seen on the Immagine in Cornice DVD) and Harper (name “borrowed” from Ben Harper, Eddie’s good friend, born in 2008) and sealed his union with  model Jill McCormick. What can be referred to as the musician’s “second moment”, started at the beginning of this century, provided Pearl Jam with a new identity and several contributions to movie soundtracks. Whilst his name was recalled for contributions on Singles (by Cameron Crowe, 1992), a movie about Seattle’s youth routine, or The Basketball Diaries (by Scott Kalvert, 1995), inspired by the punk controversy of Jim Carroll, Vedder opted for a diversion going to movies like I Am Sam (by Jessie Nelson, 2001), a story about the relationship between a mentally challenged father and his daughter, or Big Fish (by Tim Burton, 2003), which speaks of a father and son trying to make amends towards the end of the road.

SURVIVORS OF A STYLE

Grunge was born in the end of the 80s, but would only become popular at the beginning of the following decade. Bands such as The Melvins, Mudhoney, Green River and Mother Love Bone, that showed rebelliousness in dark and pessimistic lyrics (sometimes privileging the strength of a single word) sang through dirty, less refined notes, flowed against the forces of hard rock, popular in the 80s, which was based upon the glam looks (tight clothes, shaped hairstyles, makeup) and mixed compositions of love and orgies – cases of Kiss, Whitesnake, Mötley Crüe and Bon Jovi.

After the death of Mother Love Bone’s singer Andy Wood (caused by a heroin overdose), bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard joined singer Chris Cornell and drummer Matt Cameron, from Soundgarden, to create the Temple of the Dog, a tribute project to the deceased friend. Eddie Vedder joins the scene then, recommended by Jack Irons, Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s drummer at the time, together with young guitarist Mike McCready. The harmony was remarkable in a way that, after the project’s only album was released in 1991 and the members of Soundgarden were back on the road, the others stood together and formed Pearl Jam.

The three songs to mark the foundation of the band are Alive, Once and Footsteps. They had been sent to Eddie Vedder without any lyrics as an “admission test”. Rumor has it that Vedder left for a surfing session and came back with the lyrics, extremely personal, ready to go.

When questioned about their thoughts after the first recordings with the singer, all other band members are unanimous to say: Eddie is intense. He sang his familiar traumas, sometimes as a whisper, sometimes at the top of his lungs, like if the pain was coming from the inside. These three compositions merge his own story with that of a serial killer, making a whole plot. However, even though approved, they weren’t listed in their original order in the band’s first album, Ten. Once would open the record while Alive was chosen as the first single, and Footsteps became a B-side on the Jeremy single.

In Zurich, during a concert in 1992, Eddie Vedder would tell the crowd about the strong relation between the three songs and how they composed a trilogy called Mamasan. “The next three songs… We’ve never really played them together, but they go together. You wanna hear about it? I’ve never told anybody about this before. I don’t wanna ruin any interpretations of the songs that you have, but it’s about incest and it’s about murder…. The third song takes place in a jail cell so this is our own little mini-opera here”.

In the beginning of their career, Pearl Jam were just a little short of releasing an album a year. Ten (1991), Vs (1993) and Vitalogy (1994) marked the band’s first moment, with compositions regarding reality, even the political one, always pierced by revolt. Even Flow, another song from the first album, talks about life on the streets. “I thought I’d throw in a bit of street education while you still have an open mind. Right across the street there’s a little homeless community that lives under the bridge. You should just know that those people ain’t all crazy and sometimes it’s not their fault”, Vedder would say before playing Even Flow at Bayfront Amphitheater, Miami in 1994.

Vitalogy unveiled a new language that would become a constant in the form the band shows their work: more refined and well though artwork to complement the music. The record itself was inspired by an antique book of life being faithful in many senses, including the format. It brought, along with body sketches and home-made recipes, Pearl Jam’s third studio album on its last page.

The next albums came at two-year intervals: No Code (1996), Yield (1998) and Binaural (2000). All of them have sophisticated artwork on digipack boxing. This is the moment when the band surrendered to experimentalism, floating afar from fellow Seattleites. Folk, Blues and World Music “contaminated” some compositions that kept, however, their hard guitar notes. Do the Evolution, released in 1998, brought the band back to the parades, once again with harsh words about our society and its reality, anticipating the problematic beginning of the 21st century: “I am ahead, I am advanced / I am the first mammal to make plans / I crawled the earth but now I’m high / (…) It´s evolution”.

Riot Act, the seventh studio album, hit the stores in 2002 bringing along news to the band. Keyboard player Boom Gaspar was invited to join Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder adopted the ukulele in several compositions. Love Boat Captain launches a more open form of speaking about love. The lyrics are dedicated to the nine fans who died at a Pearl Jam concert during Roskilde Festival (in 2000). Eddie Vedder sings “Lost nine friends we’ll never know / Two years ago today”. In the end, All You Need is Love, by The Beatles, is remembered: “I know it’s already been sung / Can’t be said enough / Love is all you need / All you need is love”. On an interview to the Baltimore Sun, in 2002, the frontman explains “It feels a little strange talking about love that openly, but if you can’t do it now, when can you do it? Love is one resource that the corporations aren’t going to be able to monopolize. Which means there’s hope for us human beings yet.”

The eighth and ninth studio albums from Pearl Jam, released in 2006 and 2009, respectively, are part of the band’s independent era. Political lyrics pledge against war and the government of George W. Bush. World Wide Suicide (2006) is an incitement: “It’s a shame to awake in a world of pain / What does it mean when a war has taken over? / (…) World over, it’s a worldwide suicide”.

During an interview to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, in 2009, Eddie Vedder said that the band’s latest studio album, titled Backspacer, contained songs with lyrics inspired by the 2004 American elections. “The night Obama was elected, I wanted to dance on the street. The day after was special. It was a dry, clear day in Seattle, people were happy and the few who hadn’t voted for him were spotted at first glance: sad, disappointed, pathetic“, said the singer; the new found hope oriented the album’s compositions. That becomes clear during The Fixer: “Fight to get it back again”.

The drummer subject is another relevant topic in the band’s trajectory. Up until Matt Cameron, who joined the band in 2000 being a former Soundgarden member, Dave Krusen, Matt Chamberlein, Dave Abbruzzese and Jack Irons rotated as members of the group.

A SIDE PATH

“It’s a mystery to me / We have a greed with which we have agreed / And you think you have to want more than you need / Until you have it all you won’t be free / Society, you’re a crazy breed / Hope you’re not lonely / Without me”. With these words Eddie Vedder sings, in Society, his version to the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man in his early twenties who couldn’t conform to the values of society living his youth in the early nineties. His goal was to find a place where men and other animals could live in complete harmony with nature. He wanted to survive solely of what his hands could provide him with. Producing without sacrificing others, no destruction for consumption. The short path he chose to be his inspired the book Into the Wild, written by Jon Krakauer in 1998 and, later, the homonymous movie directed by Sean Penn that hit the theaters in 2007. Connected to Vedder by a strong complicity, Penn elected his friend to compose and produce the soundtrack to his motion picture. The musician’s words not only worked as a new narrative to the movie, but also as his first solo album.

The recognition of Into the Wild came naturally. Eddie Vedder succeeded to solidify himself as a soundtrack lyricist, and sprinkled his own style on Pearl Jam’s following studio album Backspacer. Part of the latter, the song Just Breathe resembles the melodies in Tuolumne and Guaranteed. All of them start with a soft guitar strum, inspiration from the Into the Wild work.

In the beginning of 2010, a song called Better Days surfaced, without warning, on the internet. Nobody knew, then, where it came from and if it could be, eventually, a B-Side from Pearl Jam’s last album. The answer came a while later with the release of a trailer to Eat, Pray, Love (by Ryan Murphy, 2010). The movie, headlined by Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem is based on a homonymous bestseller book by Elizabeth Gilbert, that talks about the pleasure of gastronomy, the power of praying and the balance of true love. “My love is safe for the universe / See me now I’m bursting / On one planet so many turns / Different worlds / (…) The future’s paved with better days”, says the main song from the soundtrack. The thematic is a little off what was already known with Pearl Jam. However, it highlights a curious connection between the subjects of every movie Eddie Vedder has accepted to be a part of throughout his career: life lessons.

His debut as a lyricist of soundtracks is very far away from the love thematic. In 1992, two Pearl Jam songs were put on SinglesState of Love and Trust and Breath. Eddie even played a small part in the movie as the drummer from a Seattle grunge band. There, the songs channeled all of grunge’s style, both on the lyrics and the music, due to the fact that the movie was about a familiar reality to Pearl Jam and other rock stars – rebelliousness, depression and suicide. “Trigger shakes aimed right at my head / Won’t you help me?”, says one of the songs. The Basketball Diaries wasn’t any different. This 1995 movie is a type of punk revolt inspired by Jim Carroll’s autobiography. Pearl Jam contributed covering one of Carroll’s biggest hits, Catholic Boy, with a Runaways-influenced course of dirty guitar riffs and screamed lyrics coming right from the end of the 70s and beginning of the 80s. Up to this point the band’s relationship with motion pictures was strictly musical, since the stories circled around other rocker’s lives.

Dead Man Walking (1996), directed by Tim Robbins and starred by Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, gives us some clues as to how Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack career effectively started. A friend of Tim’s, Susan’s and Sean’s, Vedder was invited to compose specifically to the movie staged in Louisiana, which tells the story of a nun (Sarandon) becoming the spiritual guide of a man (Penn) about to be executed for murdering two young people. The musician contributed Long Road and sang Face of Love, written by Pakistani Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Pearl Jam’s frontman never considered himself a poet, but claims to be sensitive to the point of perceiving what’s around him in order to transform that into music. Long Road is like a report from a person approaching the end of life. “I will walk the long road / We all walk the long road…” he says, towards the end, leaving us the comfort of knowing we will all have the same end.

Curious it is to realize that Long Road was even chosen as the background in two other occasions. After the terrorist attacks to the twin towers in New York in 2001, some musicians gathered to produce the show Tribute to Heroes and raise funds to the ones who suffered with the tragedy. Eddie Vedder was present and sang Long Road along with Neil Young, dedicated to those who paid with their lives. Long Road was also requested by Ryan Murphy to be a part of Eat, Pray, Love.

The friendship between Eddie Vedder and Tim Robbins resulted, as well, on a fun duet with Susan Sarandon. Vedder was called to record a song with the actress for the movie Cradle Will Rock (by Tim Robbin, 1999). The plot, centered in the 30s, reflects directly on the musical style of the duet, named Croon Spoon.

Paternity-related subjects were always present in the musician’s life. Before the 2000s, Pearl Jam compositions made that clear. After the beginning of the new millennium, Eddie Vedder became a father. Around that time, he got an invitation from Jessie Nelson, director of I Am Sam, to record a cover of The Beatles’ You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. Fittingly, the plot has Sean Penn (again!) playing a mentally challenged father fighting for his daughter’s custody. The John Lennon song (signed Lennon/McCartney as it was habitual with The Beatles), got a new interpretation on this film. “ If she’s gone, I can’t go on / Feeling two-foot small / Everywhere people stare / Each and every day / I can see them laugh at me / And I hear them say” – those could very well be the main character’s words, feeling excluded by society.

In 2003, the subject was once again a part of Eddie Vedder’s life. Tim Burton, another of the musician’s close friends, showed him an early draft of his latest production, Big Fish. He, then, asked for a Pearl Jam song. The movie was intense to the singer, since he was facing a son and a father trying to come close to each other with the impending death of the latter. Eddie Vedder vanished for two days, wrote the song, and then met with the band with everything ready. The result was Man of the Hour, which appears on the credits, after the final scene of son holding father’s body on his arms. A perfect goodbye: “And the road the old man paved / The broken seams along the way / The rusted signs, left just for me / He was guiding me, love, his own way / Now the man of the hour is taking his final bow / As the curtain comes down / I feel that this is just goodbye for now”. This song had such a great impact on Vedder’s life that, years later, he would take it to the stages after the death of his good friend Johnny Ramone. Before playing it, Eddie mentioned the musician and replaced the word “father” with “Johnny”.

AGAINST WAR, FOR SURFING

Life lessons, like the tribute to a good old friend or the story of someone shattered by war, were constant during Eddie Vedder’s career. In 2007 he was called to perform The Who’s Love Reign O’er Me, for the homonymous movie by Mike Binder. As the song titled the movie, it’s there on both bands’ versions, reinforcing the theme of love. In the story, the September 11 attacks once again touch Vedder, since one of the characters suffers for having lost her family in the tragedy and finds on a friend a new reason for living. On this same year, Eddie met Tomas Young, a young soldier gunshot wounded in Iraq who becomes paralytic and whose story of difficult adaptation to his “new body” is told in the movie Body of War (by Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro, 2007). Inspired by this story, Vedder wrote No More, a protest song. “I speak for a man who gave for this land / Took a bullet in the back for his pay / Spilled his blood in the dirt and the dust / And he’s come back to say / That what he has seen is hard to believe / And it does no good to just pray / He asks of us to stand / And we must end this war today / With his mind he’s saying NO MORE / With his heart he’s saying NO MORE / With his life he’s saying NO MORE WAR”.

The path walked by the musician, parallel to Pearl Jam, did not cross these subjects alone. Away from war or family crisis, life lessons important to him, Eddie Vedder also contributed to surfing soundtracks, being the sport one of his biggest passions. Here we have the songs Goodbye composed especially for the documentary A Breakdown Melody (by Chris Malloy, 2004), entirely played on the ukulele, and Big Wave, recorded by Pearl Jam for their eighth studio album and given to animation movie Surf’s Up (by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck, 2007).

I’m Not There (by Todd Haynes, 2007) also had a Vedder contribution. For this motion picture, a sui generis biography of Bob Dylan, Eddie re-recorded All Along the Watchtower, a song that was covered by several artists, besides Dylan himself, but better known on its Jimi Hendrix version.

Three other movies also had Pearl Jam songs, although not original tracks; only songs given to the respective soundtracks. They are: Not For You for the documentary Hype! (about the 90s Seattle scene, by Doug Pray, 1996); Who You Are and Hard to Imagine for Chicago Cab (by Mary Cybulski and John Tintori, 1997) and Go for Remember Me (by Alan Coulter, 2010). These songs had more secondary roles to the movies as opposed to their original album recordings.

Observing these 21 years of Eddie Vedder’s professional career, it’s possible to see that the old story about his father, though seemingly rusted and on a distant past, is more present than one could realize at first thought. During the last decade of the 20th century, Eddie shows an intense revolt with the paternity issue; later it’s clear how he changes and matures, when the pain transforms into love. And that’s something to witness on both the nature of his songs and the movies in which he was involved.

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